Campaign '04: Of Curses and Charms


By Richard S. Dunham Nobody in Washington admits to being superstitious, of course. Still, hundreds of otherwise rational Republicans were petrified as the sun went down on Halloween, after the Washington Redskins lost their football game to the Green Bay Packers. The reason: Since the days of Herbert Hoover, the party in control of the White House had always lost the Presidential election if the Skins lost their last home game before the voting. This pattern repeated 16 times in a row.

Well, George W. Bush broke the curse of the Redskins. And, for all of you 'fraidy cats out there, it wasn't the only hex to end with the President's victory on Nov. 2. Here are some of the historical curses -- and charms -- that were broken by the Big W:

The Electoral College freak curse. Since the beginning of the Republic, every President who lost the popular vote -- but became President because of an Electoral College win or House of Representatives action -- had been voted out of office after a single term. Until Bush.

The like-father, like-son curse. America has had two father-son sets of Presidents: John Adams and John Quincy, and George H.W. Bush and George W. Three of those four Presidents were defeated in their bids for a second term. The only exception: George W.

The right-direction/wrong-direction curse. Since the advent of modern polling, no President had won reelection when a majority of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction in the final public opinion polls before the election. Bush did.

The troubled incumbent curse. No President since Truman had been reelected if he didn't have a clear lead in the final preelection poll. The reason: Undecided voters historically come down on the side of the challenger. The final 2004 polls had Bush running narrowly ahead of Kerry or even with him. But W. managed to win, thanks in large part to a huge get-out-the-vote machine put together by White House political guru Karl Rove and campaign manager Ken Mehlman.

The four-letter curse. No, not Dick Cheney's dirty mouth. No President with four letters in his last name had ever served a second term. (Ask Presidents Polk, Taft, and George H.W. Bush.) George W. becomes the first two-term, four-letter man.

The New England curse. No President born in New England had ever been elected to a second full term. (Remember, George W. was born in New Haven, Conn.) No more.

The Democrats' Red Sox charm. Democrats have won the Presidency every time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. (It happened twice, in 1912 and 1916, before "the curse of the Bambino") The luck of Beantown has run out, Senator Kerry.

But if you're properly superstitious, a few talismans remain intact. Here's a sampling:

The Missouri curse. Of course, no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. And the Ohio charm remains good. Bush did it. Here's the flip side: No Democrat has ever won the Presidency without carrying Missouri since it gained statehood. Neither did Kerry.

The Commander-in-Chief charm. No President has ever been voted out of office in wartime. That didn't change this year, either.

The Bob Shrum curse. A legend in Democratic circles, Kerry's media adviser and longtime Boston buddy has never worked for a winning Presidential campaign. Shrum remains 0 for forever (Democrats have stopped counting).

The Senate curse. No sitting senator has been elected President since 1960. In all of American history, the only senators to move directly to the White House were John F. Kennedy and Warren G. Harding. Senator Kerry joins a distinguished list of senatorial losers, including Bob Dole and George McGovern.

The Yankee Democrat curse. No Northern Democrat has been elected President since 1960. The Democratic winners: Southerners Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Let's see if Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (not Little Rock) breaks the curse in '08.

It clearly wasn't witchcraft that kept Kerry from the White House. But some Democrats will definitely have to think twice before entering the next Presidential race. Other forces are at work here, clearly. Dunham is BusinessWeek's Washington-based chief political correspondent. Follow his views in Washington Watch, only on BusinessWeek Online


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